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The Meaning of Jesus' Words, I am in John 8:58.

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Question:  Dear Dr. Luginbill, Could you look at the following comment from a correspondent of mine and let me know if it is true? I know the quote is from the Septuagint, but it seems to me that I read somewhere that John 8:58 is a more literal rendering of Ex.3:14 than the LXX is.

"The name of God in the Hebrew here is Eyeh Asher Eyeh. It is rendered 'ego eimi, o wn' in the LXX, not 'ego eimi'. Have a look: Exodus 3:14 kai eipen o yeov prov mwushn egw eimi o wn... There's your 'ego eimi ho on'. And what is said next? Next Yahweh says what is translated 'I am' in the KJV. But which words were translated 'I am'? Were they the words 'ego eimi'? No they were not: ...kai eipen outwv ereiv toiv uioiv israhl o wn apestalken me prov umav. There's your 'ho on'. Two instances of 'ho on', as per spec. The idea that 'Eyeh' alone is translated 'ego eimi' here is simply laughable."

This is what he wrote, and I would like to know if it is true.

In Christ

Response :   As far as "Eyeh Asher Eyeh" is concerned, this is simply a transliteration of the Hebrew text of Ex.3:14 ("I will be/can be/may be/keep on being what[ever] I will be/can be/may be/keep on being"; see Bible Basics part 1: Theology, note #1 and note #6). Inasmuch as this Hebrew phrase is a summing up of the idea of "existing" contained in the Name of God, it really seems to me a "cop out" to transliterate it (especially if the intent is be "mysterious"). Why not transliterate the whole Bible? Then nothing could be understood (the putative purpose of such exercises when cults and the like are involved). In John 8:58, Jesus does apply the meaning of this Name to Himself when He says, "Before Abraham came into existence, I am"), thus clearly identifying Himself as God. The Greek He uses is not an untranslatable phrase anymore than the Hebrew phrase He quotes is, so that it would be equally obfuscatory to render this "I am" of our Lord as ego eimi (the Greek for "I am"). The only reason I can think that someone would dogmatically demand such a thing is to call into question the divinity of Christ, a point this passage must otherwise make very lucidly.

It is true that, in the Septuagint version (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), the translation of Ex.3:14 is ego eimi ho on ("I am the One who exists"). But it is important to note that the Septuagint is actually attempting to translate this difficult Hebrew phrase, and it is of no small significance that the translator felt the need to use two different forms of the verb "to be" to do so. Neither of these forms is future, by the way, nor is either form potential (we might have expected an optative or a subjunctive). The point is that even in the third century B.C., the Hebrew "eyeh 'asher 'eyeh" really was difficult to do justice to. Given that immediately after this, God tells Moses to tell the Israelites that "'eyeh" has sent him (using only one half of the repeated verbal coupling), Jesus statement "I am" seems as close as one might come to quoting this passage in Greek (or any other language). So there is really no doubt whatsoever that Jesus is directly and deliberately referring to Exodus 3:14 with these words, regardless of the exact phraseology used by the LXX. Similarly, in Rev.1:8, the Father describes Himself as "ho on, kai ho en, kai ho erchomenos" - "the One who is, and who was, and who is coming". Both renderings have, to my mind, one and the same central objective: to make clear that God is the author of all existence, of all creation, and that He is supreme within that creation, being both the definition and the ruler of the very notion of being and existence. The use of the divine "being" Name in Exodus chapter three (by our Lord Jesus in Christophany acting for the Father) served to put the Israelites on notice that this God is in no way comparable to the gods with which they were familiar (so neither is His Name comparable). In John 8:58 and elsewhere, Jesus makes it clear that He is that very same One, and anyone familiar with the meaning and the translations of that famous Hebrew passage should have recognized this.

As near as I can figure from the quote you include in your e-mail, this person is trying to get some mileage out of the fact that the LXX (or at least the version which has survived - there were of course many redactions and a number of early versions which were subsumed into what we now call the Septuagint) has ho on in this second instance ("Tell them the existing One sent you ...). After all, it starts out with ego eimi, the very words of Jesus in John 8:58. In any case, the LXX is not inspired. It is, in my opinion, not even a particularly valuable witness to the Hebrew text. Along with many others, I wish that the Septuagint were a more useful resource, but in fact it is only marginally more helpful than the Latin Vulgate. Given that Jesus' words 1) do match the beginning of the LXX quote, and 2) are an unusual thing to say in Greek or any other language, any fair interpretation of the text of John 8:58 must conclude that our Lord is making a very plain claim of divinity here, one that directly and deliberately quotes from Exodus 3:14 by laying claim to the divine Name which encapsulates the idea of being in Him who is the very source of "being".

See also:

Jesus' use of "I AM" in John 8:58

Where does the Bible teach that Jesus is God?

How can Jesus be a man and God at the same time?

The Divinity of Jesus Christ

Jesus is God and man.

Jesus is God.

Melchizedek and the high priesthood of Christ

Essential Doctrines of the Bible in Outline: Part 1 Theology: The Study of God, section II.C, 'The Trinity in the Old Testament

The Trinity in the Old Testament (in Basics #1)

Jesus Christ in the Old Testament (Christophany: Gen.3:8)

Christophany in the Exodus

Yours in the One who truly is and who is the source of "is", our Lord Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill


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